Editorial from Church & State, Spring 2005 (Number 80)

A Puritan And A Pope

We cannot pretend that the wisdom which is accessible only to the superior discipline of the Protestant mind is accessible to us. We can only do the best we can with our inferior mental equipment.

The superiority of the Protestant mind ("the more rigorous discipline of the Protestant mind") was proclaimed in the Irish Times on 28th October 2004 by Bruce Arnold, the chief political commentator on the Irish Independent. It was asserted particularly against Professor John A. Murphy, but was stated in general terms: Murphy's mind is not Protestant therefore it is inferior. As Professor Murphy did not challenge the statement, he must be presumed to have accepted the badge of inferiority. And the general clientele of the Irish Times must have accepted their superior or inferior status on these grounds, according as they were Protestants or Catholics respectively, since not a single voice of dissent from Mr. Arnold's proclamation was heard in the columns of the Irish Times.

We appear to belong to the small minority of people who write and publish in Southern Ireland today who do not feel that their minds are of inferior quality because they are not Protestant minds. Mr. Arnold would no doubt explain our inability to feel inferior as the clearest demonstration of our inferiority. We are so far gone that we have the illusion of mental competence.

There was at the outset a Protestant amongst the people who were active in producing this journal: Tom Bates, who died in the prime of life about twenty years ago. Tom might be described as the founder of the journal, in that it was his idea. But none of us attributed any mental significance to the fact that he came from a Protestant background while most of us came from Catholic backgrounds. We all thought that we were beyond all that kind of thing. And, in fact, most of us were unaware that he was a Protestant until difficulties arose over his burial—not difficulties raised by the Catholic Church. There were also some Protestants amongst the contributors—a fact which we became aware of at that point, but still attributed no significance to. It did not seem at all wonderful in the spirit of the 1970s that people of both Protestant and Catholic backgrounds should be engaged on a project like this. The sectarian dimension of life was on the way out, and all that was required to give it that coup de grace was to diminish the part played by the Catholic Church in the dimension of life which properly belonged to the state as a secular institution.

On the occasion of the Pope's visit 26 years ago we published the only expression of dissent in the Republic. We collected a series of articles published erlier in this magazine and issued them as a pamphlet under the title, The Rise Of Papal Power In Ireland, along with a Preface in which we told the Pope we had his measure:

"This pamphlet is being published to mark the visit of the Pope to his green island—or to that part of it where heretics find it prudent to lay low. It deals chiefly with the question of how long Papal influence has held sway on the island…

"What makes the Irish seem a puzzle to the modern freethinking British or Europeans (and even to themselves) is the idea that they have been fervent Roman Catholics for fifteen hundred years…

"The great secret about Catholicism in Ireland is its age. Its vigour during the past century was the vigour of raw youth. Catholic enclaves have existed on the island for over a thousand years, but for a thousand years the Catholic Church in Ireland was the Church of the would-be conqueror: Viking, Norman and Old English.

"What we know today as the Catholic Church in Ireland is a new Church that was constructed between the 1820s and the 1840s as an integral part of a social movement by which the mass of the Gaels sloughed off their Gaelic heritage and entered European civilization as a new people. The Gaels had not been Roman Catholics in any meaningful sense while they were Gaels. And in the light of this knowledge the great mystery about the Irish dissolves. The mystery was only a misapprehension.

"The articles which compose this pamphlet… were first published in the magazine Church and State in 1973. The position that is stated in them has not been publicly disputed by anybody. If it was not soundly based it would undoubtedly have been knocked down. We can therefore confidently say on the occasion of the Pope\s first visit to one of his newer Churches that we have his measure."

A thousand copies sold out amidst the appearance of monolithic fidelity in 1979. A more stylishly-produced print of a thousand by Athol Books in 1983 also sold out within the year. It has been out of print for over twenty years because we became dissatisfied with some points in the historical material (which did not affect the main argument) and never got round to altering it.

We recall that at the time Manus O'Riordan objected that we did not have the measure of the Pope. Perhaps we didn't. But we had the measure of the Church in Ireland.

We doubt that he ever heard our challenge. But we heard that he made an assessment of the Church in Ireland that did not conflict with ours, and that he recoiled from his reception at Maynooth where his appearance was met by all the assembled elite of Church and State bursting out into song ("He's got the whole world in his hands") and clapping their hands. He understood the superficiality of it, and knew that here was a structure built on sand.

That structure has crumbled. Cardinal Cullen's building lasted less than a century and a half. But in the shadow of that building most of the old, informal, traditional, superstitious, undogmatic Catholicism of Gaelic Ireland has withered and it is doubtful whether it is capable of revival.

When there was a powerful Catholic Church in being which exerted undue influence on affairs of state, we do not recall that we received any assistance at all from Bruce Arnold etc. during the years when we were in conflict with it. But now that the Church no longer exercises such influence, Bruce Arnold and his Anglicising Reform Society declare that they are oppressed by a sectarian Catholic State, and the Irish Times makes itself an organ of their propaganda. Then Arnold revives the justifying ideology of the Penal Law by proclaiming the superiority of the Protestant mind, and the inferiority of the non-Protestant mind.

Well, the source of our inferiority, the great Anti-Christ has just died—but will soon be replaced. We had little time for him while he was going strong, but we found ourselves increasingly in agreement with him during his latter years, particularly on War and on Globalism. And Bruce Arnold and the Irish Times have put us rather in the position into which Hitler put many Germans who had all but forgotten that they were Jews. They have told us that we bear the mark of our Papist ancestry in the inferiority of our minds.

As we understand the doctrine of Protestant superiority, which was upheld by the State in Ireland over many centuries, there is no remedy under it which we can apply to ourselves. Doing things is useless. You are saved or damned depending on whether or not you are overwhelmed by grace from an external power. And if that external power does not choose to overwhelm you with saving grace, and you try to do something for yourself, all you will be able to do is eke out your existence with fetishes and superstitions under the guidance of the Anti-Christ.

It seems probable that the decline of the superstitious and fetishistic paganism of Rome Papal has bottomed out, and will undergo a revival, and some discussion of it seems relevant. (This language might have been thought antiquarian a generation ago. But it is now the language in which the major political party in Northern Ireland understands the world, and it lies behind evangelical Protestantism, and therefore behind Bruce Arnold's statement.)

The ultimate superstition is the Immaculate Conception, the centrepiece of the Mariolatry which Protestants over the generations have seen as the mark of the beast amongst the Irish—an absurd notion which could never be entertained by the superior discipline of the Protestant mind. Mary, the Mother of God, conceived outside the natural order!!

But, on the other hand, one might ask, how can God not have a mother? What definite idea is conveyed by the statement that he is the causeless cause of himself?

And how can the Immaculate Conception of Mary be manifestly absurd and the Virgin Birth of Jesus be reasonable? It is the same thing involving different people. There is no difference between them in terms of reason. The difference is entirely one of familiarity. Protestants were habituated to one and found the other absurd. But the distinction in kind which is made between the two is a sign of absence of thought rather than of mental rigour.

When the Immaculate Conception was made a dogmatic part of the Catholic system in the 1850s, Edward Everett Hale preached a sermon on it in a Congregationalist Church in Boston, which was then the Athens of the West. Hale was not a Catholic, and Boston had not yet become Irish. Hale was on the other extreme of the Christian spectrum, if indeed Unitarianism is to be considered Christian: it was not taken to be Christian by the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when it was establishing the Penal Laws under the name of a Toleration Act.

Whether somebody who holds that Jesus was not God, but only his son, can be considered a Christian is not a problem that we feel called upon to resolve. But the Unitarians were at least on the fringe of Christianity, and gave it a lot of thought. And Hale saw the Immaculate Conception as being consistent with the inherent logic of Christianity in its bearing on the human condition:

"The worship of Mary, and the declaration of her sinlessness, are… the direct and legitimate results of that doctrine of the Trinity, which, by making Jesus equal with God, leaves no Mediator between my God and me.

"The Roman Church accepts these legitimate results. The Protestant Church shrinks form them ; and for fear of them recoils, in practice, from that view of the Trinity. In practice. In theory, almost every Protestant Church retains it. But in the practice of Protestantism, in its prayers, it prays to the Father ; in its preaching it points to the example of the Son, as one tempted as we are—as that of the man Christ Jesus. Its creeds are orthodox. In practice, its devotions, its sermons are heterdox. Thus, and thus only, do the strict churches of Protestantism escape the fatal conclusion of their Romanist brethren. They keep their Mediator, by a disregard of the creed which makes him a God.

"And only so!" (The Immaculate Conception: A Sermon preached in the Church of Unity, Worcester and in the Second Congregational Church, Worcester, 14th and 21st January, 1855. Boston, 1855).

(E.E. Hale was the author of The Man Without A Country, an immensely patriotic novel, but an interesting one, as well as a famous Unitarian preacher, and towards the end of his life he was appointed chaplain to the US Senate. He was the grand-nephew of Nathan Hale, the first American spy, who was hanged by the British in New Year in the first year of the rebellion saying that his sole regret was that he had only one life to give for his country, and whose statue stands in CIA headquarters.)

Divinity, which is "without body, parts or passion", can of itself have nothing to do with humanity, which is all body, parts and passions. The two can only relate to each other through a connecting link of some kind. And such a link is necessarily ambiguous and problematical.

And, as between demoting Jesus and enhancing Mary in order to make that link, we can see no grounds for considering the former reasonable and the latter not.

Radio Eireann recently broadcast an interview with a man in Ballinalee who is 104 years old, Patrick Greene, but has not lost interest in the affairs of this world as they pass by. Towards the end of the interview he was asked what his best standby in life was during all those years. He said it was prayer. The interviewer (Joe Duffy) understood him as saying it was Faith—taking prayer and Faith to be the same thing. But prayer is an activity and Faith is something else. The Jansenist philosopher, Pascal, who worried about these things, thought the activity of praying was the most important thing. Perhaps prayer is Catholic and Faith is protestant.

Master Greene gave no sign that he had worried about these things. And, since he went on to say that he prayed to his (dead) wife and found it very effective, that seemed to indicate that prayer was the standby and the rest was taken for granted.

That is how things generally were in Catholic Ireland before it was shaken up. There were superstitions, fetishes, idolatries, and incantations in plenty for all occasions, and life was not enjoyed less than it has been since it was made problematical.

Charlotte Bronte, the daughter of a strict Irish Protestant, saw it all in Belgium and described it in Villette:

"a subtle essence of romanism pervaded every arrangement: a large sensual indulgence… was permitted by way of counterpoise to the jealous spiritual restraint. Each mind was being reared in slavery; but to prevent reflection from dwelling on this fact, every pretext for physical recreation was seized and made the most of. There as elsewhere, the Church strove to bring up her children robust in body, feeble in soul, fat, ruddy, hale, joyous, ignorant, unthinking, unquestioning" etc etc.

No, she did not have a vision in which she foresaw what England was to become—but without the "spiritual restraint" which maintained a strain of spirituality amidst it all. (The Bronte family were produced by an Irish convert to Protestantism in Ulster, which perhaps accounts for Chalotte's mental vigour in the mid-19th century when literary England was going soft.)

If there is such a thing as the Protestant mind, and also by implication the non-Protestant mind, and the Protestant mind asserts its inherent superiority with a view to taking matters in hand once more, there are strange times ahead.

A Pope is dead. The world devoted more attention to his dying than to any other event in recent generations that was not a football match. It was unlike the notice taken of the fall of the World Trade Centre in that it was sympathetic, while feeling about the WTC was highly ambiguous.

The dead Pope played a major part in the fall of the Soviet system, though General Jaruselski played a more crucial (though unacknowledged) role, with his coup d'etat which warded off a Soviet occupation of Poland and enabled the process of disintegration to continue.

With the fall of the Soviet system all forms of social politics in Europe fell too, with Britain leading the way. The era of Globalism arrived under Ameranglian military and ideological domination. The British Prime Minister declared that the world would henceforth be unipolar. It would have one pole in Washington and no other would be tolerated. The states of Europe fell into line, more or less, including Rome Secular. But Rome Papal re-emerged to dissent from the new Empire, as a thousand years ago it had dissented from the Holy Roman Empire in the days of the Guelphs and the Ghibbelines. And its weird status in the world is such that the new Emperor must pay homage to it, although it is the only unequivocal opponent of his warmongering within what we call the civilised world—just as those other Emperors a thousand years ago had to.

It is not just the ceremonial spectacle of Rome that aroused that great wave of sympathy—though the spectacle of the funeral will certainly outdo anything British Royalty can put on for numbers and style as well as content. And in the matter of content there is simply no contest.

And so the signs are that Papism lives.

Contents of Number 80

Ireland And The Pope

A Puritan And A Pope

Church Split In Zimbabwe
Angela Clifford

The Proselytism Of The West
(Report Of Mark Moser's Views)

Dublin Amenities

Vox Pat: Holydays; Lynch vs Conway; Hunger Strikers And The Pope; Cluskey vs O'Brien; McLaverty; St. Daniel Of Charleville; Mary McAleese's Mother;
Compiled by Pat Maloney

The Puritan Millenium
Stephen Richards

Theatre And Life, Part Two
Brendan Clifford

Some Clarifications
Seán McGouran

Dublin Orangeism
Report, with comment byJack Lane

The Orange Order And St. Patrick's Day
Nick Folley

Farm Subsidies & Archbishop Martin

An Cor Tuathail: Jimmy, My Thousand-Fold Love
(Compiled by Pat Muldowney)

The Climate Of Fear In Dallas, Texas, & Its Causes
Esme Geering (Letter)

The Hidden Side Of 11 September
John Martin (Review)

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